I was walking through the Kensington neighborhood last Saturday afternoon and I saw a woman dressed head to toe in Eagles clothing, under an Eagles awning that was set up on the sidewalk outside of her townhouse. The Eagles/Saints NFC playoff game would be starting in a few hours. She was ready for it. As was the rest of Philadelphia. And I wanted this win for Philadelphia because, even though my stay in Philadelphia has been short, I join those long-time Philadelphia residents in their need for a sign. We need a sign not to give up hope, not to cave in to the affects of the violence and the state of the schools and the trash on the streets. I watched this woman in the Kensington neighborhood preparing for what she hoped would be a victory. I watched this woman in her hyper-enthusiastic, mismatched outfit knowing that she lived on a street I choose to avoid after dark and knowing that she is likely one of those Philadelphians who are turning to the Eagles to help bring light to their place in this troubled city. During the coverage of the game, I heard people talk about the tragedies of New Orleans and how deeply they need this victory. Hearing their tales of destruction, as faces of displaced residents flashed on the screen, I almost began to waive my allegiance to Philadelphia. It was that compelling. But I remembered the stories and the faces of Philadelphia who may not be enduring some natural disaster, but at the same time still suffer a collective ache and loss that seems incurable. Millions of dollars will not flow into Philadelphia’s poor neighborhoods. No one will build up the dilapidated houses. No one will look upon our city with pity. No one will have heard our stories or come close enough to see our faces. Philadelphia needs to be invigorated. We need a renaissance and many of us turn to our athletic teams to give us that boost. And season after season we face our disappointments both in close calls and in embarrassing, all-out failures making me wonder whether it is easier to just never trust in the team or to get so close to a championship that we begin to taste and smell just a hint of success only to have it quickly withdrawn from our senses.
I’m not really a sports fan. I’m learning bits and pieces about punts and downs and all of that. But I’m curious about this connection between a city who loves its teams and teams who can’t seem to get anywhere. And I wonder if the connection is deeper than we realize. Philadelphians turn to its sports teams for a boost, when maybe the energy needs to flow in the other direction. Maybe Philadelphians need to restore themselves, their neighborhoods, their schools and their priorities before they can breed a winning team. That’s my theory. I say if we clean up our cities, stop killing one another, level the power imbalance, lessen the disparity between rich and poor, heal our wounds, restore our buildings, maybe even say “hello” to one another on the street that we will create for ourselves a winning team. I’m just thinking it is worth a try. That’s all.